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Navy to honor 34 senior football players on Saturday

Navy's Tre Walker carries the ball just before fumbling in the first quarter against Temple at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. Temple won, 24-17.

PAUL W. GILLESPIE/CAPITAL GAZETTE/BALTIMORE SUN/TNS

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: November 17, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — On July 1, 2015, the Naval Academy announced an incoming football recruiting class consisting of 64 players representing 21 states.

On Nov. 17, 2018, Navy will honor the 34 remaining members of that class that made it all the way to Senior Day.

For many of them, such as starting fullback and offensive captain Anthony Gargiulo, this journey actually began in 2014 at the Naval Academy Prep School. Gargiulo and eight other current starters – quarterback Zach Abey, slotback Tre Walker, wide receiver Taylor Jackson, left guard Laurent Njiki, defensive end Jarvis Polu, inside linebacker Hudson Sullivan, safety Juan Hailey and cornerback Jarid Ryan – arrived on the Newport campus from towns all over the country and endured a difficult year just to gain acceptance to the Naval Academy.

Meanwhile, starting safety and defensive captain Sean Williams was among several direct-entry recruits that comprised the freshman class in 2015. Williams was joined by four other current starters – right tackle Andrew Wood, right guard Chris Gesell, inside linebacker Taylor Heflin and kicker Bennett Moehring – in coming straight to Annapolis from high school.

There have been ups and downs along the way, but the 34 seniors that stuck it out will be honored during an emotional pre-game ceremony on Saturday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Speaking after practice on Tuesday night, Gargiulo wasn’t sure what to say when asked how he will feel on Senior Day. He will walk onto the home field for the final time while flanked by his parents Sal and Lisa.

“I guess it hasn’t quite hit me yet. I guess it will really hit me when I have to drag my mom and dad off the field and tell them to stop crying because it’s game time,” Gargiulo said with a smile.

Sullivan, Williams, tackle Andrew Wood and defensive end Josh Webb are the only current seniors that saw meaningful action in varsity games as freshmen when Navy went 11-2, captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and defeated Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl. Walker appeared briefly in one game while Jackson traveled for a few games that season.

Williams will never forget his first collegiate game. It came against Colgate in the season opener at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and the Tennessee native was a surprise starter, rising to the challenge by making four tackles and breaking up a pass.

“I started at corner against Colgate due to some circumstances,” Williams recalled. “I got an opportunity, it was a great experience and I’ve been riding the wave ever since.”

More members of that class got onto the field as sophomores in 2016 when Navy finished 9-5 after winning the West Division to earn a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Abey made an unlikely rise at quarterback toward the end of that season due to injuries sustained by Tago Smith and Will Worth, starting the Army-Navy game and the Armed Forces Bowl against Louisiana Tech. Moehring, Polu, Ryan, Sullivan, Williams and Wood also became starters that season. Meanwhile, Hawk, Heflin and Njiki were thrust into backup roles.

Junior year was a roller coaster with Navy getting off to a 5-0 start then losing six of the final seven regular season games. A 49-7 rout of Virginia in the Military Bowl brought a positive conclusion to an otherwise disappointing season that included a second straight loss to archrival Army.

As seniors, the football-playing members of the Naval Academy graduating Class of 2019 have seen the bottom fall out. Navy is mired in the midst of a seven-game losing streak that has dropped the record to 2-8. The Midshipmen are guaranteed just their second losing season since 2003 and will not be hoisting the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy or going to a bowl game.

“It’s been a long run. Obviously, I wish we would have ended it differently,” Gargiulo said. “At the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Especially the seniors that I’m going out with, who are the best group of guys I’ve ever met in my life. It feels good to have them by my side.”

With Senior Day looming, many Navy football players say it seems like the last four years went by really fast. However, after reflecting for a while they realize it was a long, hard road.

“Honestly, it does depend on what day it is. I can remember everything like it was yesterday, but it’s not like it went by too fast. It was a fulfilling experience to be honest with you,” Williams said.

Williams wants to cherish his last football game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and made it clear a victory over Tulsa was the only option.

“It’s the last time in the stadium. As seniors, this is a moment we will remember. We just want to end on the right note,” he said. “It’s of the utmost importance, the No. 1 priority. We’re not focusing on anything else.”

Gargiulo saw several members of his recruiting class fall by the wayside following prep school. Of those that made it through plebe summer in Annapolis, 30 are no longer part of the football team. Many remain at the Naval Academy and will graduate next May, but did not make it through four years of football.

Among them is 6-foot-3, 330-pound offensive lineman Bryan Barrett, who retired midway through this season in order to focus on the physical requirements necessary for graduation. Others left the academy before signing the two-for-seven papers prior to junior year.

“It isn’t for everyone. I know I didn’t think it was for me. The only reason I’m still here is because of the guys from my class who kept me around and my parents who kept me on the straight and narrow,” Gargiulo said. “I would rather people get out before they make a bad decision and are miserable.”

Of the 34 remaining seniors, 25 are on the latest depth chart – a fairly impressive ration. Linebacker Travis Kerchner would be part of that list had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury against SMU.

That leaves eight seniors – linebacker Tory Delmonico, slotback Cameron Dudeck, defensive end Buck Elliott, cornerback John Gillis, fullback Bryan Hammond, cornerback Elijah Jones, offensive tackle Alec Keener and fullback Akili Taylor – selflessly serving on the scout team.

“I look up to those guys more than anybody else on this team. I appreciate all the hard work and commitment they’ve put toward this program,” Gargiulo said.

“Most of the guys who are on the scout team right now are hard-nosed guys like Cameron Dudeck and Buck Elliott,” Gargiulo added. “I give kudos to them for staying around because it is tough coming out to practice every day during the week then not playing on Saturday. I definitely respect them am awful lot.”

Williams seconded that assessment and said the seniors who have stuck it out despite no hope of playing in games are special.

“That just speaks to their toughness and fortitude. It makes me grateful to be around those guys and see their attitudes and how they approach things every day,” Williams said. “I have the highest respect for my peers and it’s very humbling to be their captain.”

Navy’s 34 football seniors officially received their service assignments on Thursday. Sixteen will be commissioned 2nd Lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps while 18 will be Ensigns in the United States Navy.

Service Assignments for Navy Football Class of 2019

Zach Abey (Marine Corps Ground); Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa (Surface Warfare); Lance Angulo (Marine Corps Ground); Tory Delmonico (Marine Corps Ground); Cameron Dudeck (Marine Corps Ground); Buck Elliott (Marine Corps Ground); Anthony Gargiulo (Marine Corps Ground); Chris Gesell (Surface Warfare); John Gillis (Naval Intelligence); Juan Hailey (Marine Corps Ground); Bryan Hammond (Surface Warfare); Jake Hawk (Surface Warfare); Taylor Heflin (Marine Corps Ground); Taylor Jackson (Surface Warfare); Elijah Jones (Surface Warfare); Alec Keener (Marine Corps Ground); Travis Kerchner (Marine Corps Pilot); Garret Lewis (Surface Warfare); Mike Martin (Surface Warfare); Bennett Moehring (Navy Pilot); Laurent Njiki (Naval Intelligence); Brady Petersen (Marine Corps Ground); Jarvis Polu ( Marine Corps Ground); Jarid Ryan (Marine Corps Ground); Steve Satchell (Marine Corps Ground); Matt Stewart (Navy Pilot); Hudson Sullivan (Marine Corps Ground); Akili Taylor (Surface Warfare, Information Professional); Anthony Villalobos (Surface Warfare); Tre Walker (Marine Corps Ground); Josh Webb (Surface Warfare); Khaylan Williams (Surface Warfare); Sean Williams (Supply); Andrew Wood (Pilot).

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